Read the Conversation

EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, and 2021 was the year of vaccines; what will 2022 be the year of?  

UM: 2022 will be about resetting the bar. The focus has been and still is on COVID-19; non-communicable diseases are rising globally, particularly in South Africa. NCDs are directly associated with the country's poorer segments such as lifestyles and stress. There must be a refocus and resetting not only on COVID-related matters but on society's general health, key areas for governments and pharmaceutical companies looking at reducing misdiagnosis errors, disease awareness with a focus on preventative medicine & transitioning health systems to a value-based model.

EF: What message would you deliver to the world leaders at the Davos Economic Summit to ensure healthcare remains at the top of the agenda?

UM: Healthcare should have a larger focus, not just on equity but on prevention. Preventative healthcare should be at the top of our agenda because its impact is much greater than treating patients. A healthier society means a more productive society, and a productive society has a knock-on effect, going hand in hand with education. I am passionate about education; if people are well informed, they make better decisions. Cultural practices go deeper than information, and we must influence community leaders while understanding their choices. We can bring change by reflecting on individuals' reality, especially in lower and middle-income countries, listening, understanding, forging meaningful partnerships and addressing issues. During COVID-19, we all became very comfortable with the remote working system from home, but it also has a negative health impact, and we are seeing this in 2022 as well.  

EF: What is your perspective on using digital solutions to get patients back to care?  

UM: The role of smartphones is critical as most people have one, and since COVID-19, a lot of different mediums have come into existence or become more popular such as various social media platforms. My idea of digital solutions is being able to use them to influence people through influencers. We have many influencers across countries and cultures, through celebrities or music. There is an alternative to use this influence more positively in healthcare. Digital and technology can embrace a positive role for community groups. More importantly, there are ways and opportunities to track information, allocate it, use it for improvement, and amplify it to bring about change within healthcare systems. We could then analyze and predict what interests people, what they are most likely to look for, and where they look for it because this trend is here to stay. Discussions have evolved to include digital, and misinformation issues and steps should be taken for the information to be based on fact. Information should be controlled to ensure it is right; providers also have a role in monitoring and providing correct and credible information. Technology itself isn't a problem, but how we use it can be problematic.  

EF: Can you elaborate on the ‘1 in 15’ initiative?

UM: The whole point is that if it is rare, it is not seen. For this reason, it is almost unbelievable that 1 in 15 should have a rare disease, and there are probably more than three thousand rare diseases even if they are not all detected. The campaign was launched in conjunction with Rare Disease South Africa. Recently, we had patients attend a session, and an individual running the advocacy group only became aware of Hereditary Angioedema (HAE) patients five years ago. The challenge of having patients underdiagnosed, misdiagnosed, and never diagnosed makes the area even more complex. Some diseases are better known due to genetic lineages, such as Huntington's, on which there is knowledge and information, but HAE has many misdiagnoses, with patients put on antibiotics. We need to elevate these areas and provide more information.  

EF: What is Takeda's role in creating awareness around rare diseases?  

UM: Creating awareness has always been a focus for Takeda. We put the patient at the centre and forefront of everything we do. True awareness and education for patients and healthcare professionals are paramount to impact society and ensure a dialogue of options available for treating patients. Awareness must be created first to drive earlier diagnosis and understand the burden of disease, which speaks to data that allows us to predict better. Healthcare systems need to plan for early diagnosis to create a healthier society. With more awareness, testing, and better support from organizations such as Rare Disease South Africa, patients are doing much better because they realize they are not alone, which helps demystify rare diseases and relieves their stigma. Takeda's role is to partner within the space, creating awareness and providing resources and opportunities for the education of physicians. We hope to be a partner of choice, and although we do not directly influence what is done, we provide resources, as and when requested, in the frame of each country's operations.  

EF: Does Takeda have various education initiatives for the various stakeholders involved?

UM: We naturally engage in medical education to build sustainability and strengthen healthcare systems. We work based on our values, which are patience, trust, reputation, and business - in that order, as part of our philosophy. We build trust across the entire health system, providing credible and updated information and being disease-focused, as opposed to product-focused, not to lose sight of alternatives for the patient. At times it is about accepting the disease, genetic counselling, or enabling better patient care. The patient journey involves many stakeholders that may not always have resources, so we partner with professional societies regarding education. As a pharma company, we are naturally committed and engaged in certain areas.  

EF: What is the strategic importance of South Africa to Takeda and how do you attract resources from HQ?

UM: We focus on our priorities in South Africa, understanding where the highest unmet needs are to drive the biggest difference. From a global perspective, our portfolio is very clear, we have very complex diseases and focus on the priorities we can naturally draw in from what is happening globally and filter it down into the countries. The internal people development area is critical and central to what we do, ensuring we have people with the right capabilities, skill set, and knowledge.  

EF: What is the role of healthcare in developing the economy of South Africa?  

UM: A healthy society is a productive one. The concept of prevention rather than tertiary medicine connects to NHI, with a larger focus on preventative medicine and community healthcare services. There will, of course, be centres of excellence or tertiary healthcare systems. At present, less than ¾ of the society has access to private healthcare, with 85% of the population relying on the public sector, which lacks the resources. Pharmaceutical companies have the opportunity to work with the public sector on reimbursement schemes and access to innovative medicines with specific initiatives in the public sector. With large parts of the population not having access to innovative care, we will have to make concessions, which brings us to the healthcare inequality issue. The country faces community issues that will probably not be solved in my lifetime. There is inequality around medicine, basic healthcare services, and the distances patients have to cover to get to the nearest clinics or hospitals, as not all communities have hospitals. Much is required to drive better healthcare and cover from childhood to immunization to pregnancy to care of the elderly. It is a global issue, not just a South African problem, and innovation becomes secondary when we need basic healthcare services. The beauty of partnerships is evident in what Takeda has done in Africa with visible partners working inside Africa with value-based healthcare. We are working on a project with the Global Surgery Foundation, looking at early surgery not as a preventive measure but as an intervention to improve health outcomes for women on a value-based basis. We can produce local evidence that will hopefully have an impact on changing systems as well as approaching specific diseases. With more precision medicine coming into the market and innovation increasing, diseases are seen differently: lung cancer is now seen as one diagnosis with multiple diseases, like lung cancer with different mutations. But there are many areas we could look at jointly with other pharmaceutical companies to work on diagnostics. Numerous factors contribute to inequality, and it will take time and new models to change the inequality in access to diagnostics. The healthcare system should be preparing for this.  

The NHI initiative is not about forsaking one sector for the other but achieving more equitable healthcare. South Africa would be willing to contribute if there is accountability and management to ensure the funds are directed to addressing unmet needs and showing impact. But we must know the governance model and transparency behind it.

EF: What are the key factors behind Takeda's success?

UM: Takeda has a great pipeline, leadership, and fundamentally a culture under which we operate. We have a global presence in low-income countries and are very specific in what we can do to cover unmet needs. In all the countries we operate in, we strive to be the best and drive change. Our priorities are clear, and we work with partners and governments to enable better patient care while introducing innovation into the different markets. Our task is not easy, but Takeda allows for local strategies within the global framework, which is a key factor. Our success comes down to our partnerships, collaboration, inclusiveness, and being part of a whole, tapping into South Africa even if we have teams working in Boston or Tokyo. We are part of a whole, have up-to-date information, and pull in the same direction. We move forward with technology, and AI, bring on board internal capabilities and take the countries with us on our health journey. Takeda's awareness of the external space and how it moves internally ensures we move together and use the tools for positive change.  

EF: As a representative of a new generation of leaders, what advice would you give to other women regarding executive leadership in the industry?

UM: Authenticity plays an important role, and not needing to constantly adapt to a man's world. We must be true to ourselves, our values, and our aspirations and take them to the workplace. Women often feel they must project themselves as much more decided and assertive in a male-dominated environment. My advice is to be true to who you are, don't be afraid of aspiring to what you want to be, be sure to speak from a position of knowledge and fact and always be prepared to learn. Be responsible for your learning; take time to listen and understand because it helps your confidence as a leader.

EF: What achievements would you like to celebrate this year?

UM: For me, it is about having a collaborative, dedicated team and our journey together. My success is the team's success. We achieve as a group, and our achievements are down to patient impact, which means more patients diagnosed, rare diseases demystified, and more people open to getting tested. If we achieve all these objectives, we have come a long way. We can recognize success if the Hutchinson lymphoma diagnosis -endemic in this country- fast-tracks its diagnosis time from sixty to seven days. Success would be ensuring better access to our innovative therapies and medicines programs where previously, patients in the public sector would not have had access to recently launched medicines. However ambitious, success would be enabling earlier access through better-informed healthcare providers to motivate patients to stay on treatment and improve the outcomes.  

EF: What are the skillsets required for the future of work when hiring talent for the company?

UM: In Takeda South Africa, we specifically look for skills required for bridging the gap between public and private; public policy knowledge and understanding of the public sector are critical. Secondly, regarding access, innovative thinking, and experience or expertise in the access space, but most importantly, attitude and mindset. We have made progress and changed the way we look at the profiles of the individuals, not at age or experience but at what they will bring and how they will challenge themselves to do things differently. We want people who embrace a growth mindset instead of a closed mindset; who move out of their comfort zones, embrace agility and look for change.

EF: Is there any final message you would like to share?
UM: There is knowledge expertise and knowledge transfer. We look at other markets and models to understand what can be adopted locally and what more pharma can do. Finally, we must ensure sustainability over the long term to get impact. Sustainability is key, as is value-based decision-making for a better future. We work not for today but for the future.

May 2022
South Africa